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Abstract

Sulfur isotopes in the geological record integrate a combination of biological and diagenetic influences, but a key control on the ratio of sulfur isotopes in sedimentary materials is the magnitude of isotope fractionation imparted during dissimilatory sulfate reduction. This fractionation is controlled by the flux of sulfur through the network of chemical reactions involved in sulfate reduction and by the isotope effect associated with each of these chemical reactions. Despite its importance, the network of reactions constituting sulfate reduction is not fully understood, with two principle networks underpinning most isotope models. In this study, we build on biochemical data and recently solved crystal structures of enzymes to propose a revised network topology for the flow of sulfur through the sulfate reduction metabolism. This network is highly branched and under certain conditions produces results consistent with the observations that motivated previous sulfate reduction models. Our revised network suggests that there are two main paths to sulfide production: one that involves the production of thionate intermediates, and one that does not. We suggest that a key factor in determining sulfur isotope fractionation associated with sulfate reduction is the ratio of the rate at which electrons are supplied to subunits of Dsr vs. the rate of sulfite delivery to the active site of Dsr. This reaction network may help geochemists to better understand the relationship between the physiology of sulfate reduction and the isotopic record it produces.